Iraqi militias take Tal Afar air base from ISIL

Iraqi Shiite militias say they hunted ISIL fighters from an airbase west of Mosul.

Victory, if confirmed, would threaten the Sunni group’s supply route from Syria to its last major stronghold in Iraq.

What is the strategic importance?

If confirmed, the capture could be a significant development in the campaign to retake Mosul, ISILis the de facto capital.

The group’s forces swept through Iraq in 2014 and established a self-proclaimed caliphate in parts of Syria and northern Iraq.

Tal Afar

The city lies about 60 kilometers west of Mosul on the main road to Syria.

Its seizure could also alarm Turkey, which is wary of the involvement of Iraqi Shiites in the civil war in Syria.

The Mosul Campaign

As the Shia coalition fights ISIL west of Mosul, regular army and police units are trying to advance from the other side.

They are supported by Kurdish peshmerga fighters deployed in the north and east.

Iraqi counter-terrorist forces violated ISIL defenses in eastern Mosul two weeks ago.

However, they faced resistance from militants who retaliated with car bombs, snipers and waves of counterattacks.

Government forces fought in a dozen of an estimated 60 neighborhoods in the eastern part of Mosul, which is divided by the Tigris.

They still have to enter the city from the north and south sides.

When did the campaign start?

October 17.

Using air and ground support from a US-led coalition, it is the largest military operation in Iraq in more than a decade since the 2003 invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.

A springboard for Syria?

Popular Mobilization, known locally by its Arabic name, Hashid Shaabi, says it wants to use Tal Afar air base to fight against ISIL in Syria.

The group will fight alongside President Bashar al-Assad, an ally of Iran.

Although officially attached to Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, it is mainly trained and equipped by Iran.

The prospect of sectarian conflicts

The advance towards Tal Afar raised the prospect of sectarian strife.

It also alarmed neighboring Turkey.

The city had a mixed population of mainly Shia and Sunni Turkmen before ISIL captured him in 2014.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said last month that Turkey was reinforcing its troops on the border with Iraq and would respond if militias “sow terror” in Tal Afar.

Iraq has sought to allay fears that the Tal Afar takeover operation could inflame sectarian tensions or deepen problems with Turkey.

Haider al-Abadi said the attack force entering the city will reflect its religious and ethnic makeup.

The Nineveh region surrounding Mosul is a mosaic of ethnic and religious communities, including Arabs, Turkmens, Kurds, Yazidis, Christians, Sunnis and Shiites.

Sunni Arabs, however, are by far the overwhelming majority.

Mosul in numbers

  • 5-6,000 ISIL fighters
  • 100,000 Iraqi coalition fighters
  • No official casualty figures

    57,000 displaced by fighting – UN

    1,000,000 would have been used as human shields

The desecration of Nimrud

Iraqi experts set up field teams to assess the damage caused to the historic remains of Nimrud.

ISIL were driven out of town but reportedly destroyed as much as they could before they left.

The worst damage was reportedly done in the past two months as the Iraqi army advanced.

This seems to have been confirmed by evidence from satellite images.

What they say

“Tal Afar airport has been liberated”, – Yusif al-Kallabispokesman for the Popular Mobilization, a coalition of militias mainly backed by Iran.

“Tal Afar will be the starting point for the liberation of the entire area up to the Syrian border and beyond the Syrian border”, – Hadi al-Amirileader of the Badr organization, the largest component of popular mobilization.

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